Soweto is South Africa's most famous township and a top tourist attraction. Most tourists just make a whistle-stop visit of the main sights, but to really get to know this vibrant and exciting place you should think about staying longer. There are numerous historical sights and museums, traditional restaurants, and lively bars and pubs scattered across the township that can keep you occupied for one, two or three days, plus plenty of accommodation options for all budgets.
Follow this itinerary for a Soweto weekend to remember ...
Located in the historic suburb of Orlando West, Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers is an ideal place to spend your first night. After checking in and enjoying a morning coffee in the quirky beach-style courtyard, get ready to take a half-day tour around the township by bike on one of Lebo’s famous bicycle tours. Tours are led by locals and routes include stops at the most famous landmarks, as well as visits to everyday places such as homes, street markets, traditional shops and shebeens.
Tours end back at the backpacker hostel with a delicious home-made lunch of bunny chow – a hollowed-out quarter loaf of bread filled with curry. After all that exercise, chill out for a while in a hammock overlooking the attractive park in front of the backpackers.
Visit the Hector Pieterson Museum and Memorial. One of the best museums in Soweto, it is an excellent place to learn more about the events leading up to the Soweto riots of 1976.
Walk the two blocks from the museum to Vilakazi Street, following the very same route that the protesting schoolchildren of 1976 walked. Soweto’s most famous street is a happening spot every day of the week. Drop in at the Soweto Travel Bar for a drink and to see its latest pop-up exhibition, or sit on the terrace at the slick Thrive Cafe and enjoy a barista-brewed cappuccino.
For dinner on Vilakazi Street try Sakhumzi, a popular restaurant with a lively atmosphere and a fun menu full of traditional African dishes to try, such as tripe stew, ox liver or chicken feet.
After dinner head to Kwa Lichaba at the bottom of Vilakazi Street. This massive pub, car wash and shisa nyama (barbecued meat) restaurant is a real party place. Order some drinks and grab a table on the terrace where DJs spin the latest African house tracks.
Following a leisurely breakfast at the backpackers, get dropped in Kliptown. One of the oldest districts of Soweto, Kliptown has a rich history and its bustling streets are a mix of brick houses, shops and shacks, markedly different from the identical rows of "matchbox" houses found in the rest of the township.
In the centre of Kliptown is the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication. It is here that in 1956 the Congress of the People met to present their plans for a free and democratic South Africa in a key document called the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter now forms the basis of South Africa’s modern Constitution and the importance of this meeting is remembered in a number of impressive monuments positioned throughout the square.
Learn more about the 1956 Congress of the People at the small Kliptown Museum, where creative and informative displays bring to life the story of the Freedom Charter and the characters who helped write it.
To really get a feel for life in Kliptown take a walking tour with Ntokozo from Tour 2.0, who will take you over the tracks and into the neighbourhood to meet the locals. A highlight of the tour is a visit to the personal museum of Oom Bolo. A committed historian and avid collector of all things vintage, Oom Bolo will regale you with tales of early Kliptown and the struggle against apartheid.
For lunch visit the stylish Jazz Maniacs restaurant at the upmarket Soweto Hotel, where you can feast on a gourmet take on typical South African township cuisine.
After lunch visit the impressive Regina Mundi Church in Rockville – which played a significant role in the struggle against apartheid and even has the bullet holes to prove it – before taking a stroll in Thokoza Park, a well-tended park that is popular with local families.
For sundowners followed by an early dinner visit the classy Eyethu Lifestyle Centre in nearby Mofolo. Ask the in-house sommelier to guide you through the latest wines in the well-stocked Eyethu wine cellar.
After dinner enjoy a show at the impressive Soweto Theatre, which showcases works by local playwrights and choreographers and also hosts regular jazz and gospel concerts.
Start your last morning in Soweto by taking a birdwatching tour with Bay of Grace Tours. On this unique tour you’ll visit the Soweto wetlands and the rocky hills of the Enoch Sontonga koppie (a small hill) with bird guide Raymond Rampolokeng for breathtaking views over the sprawling township.
End your tour with lunch at the legendary Chaf Pozi shisa nyama next to the colourful Orlando cooling towers, a fun place to enjoy a typical South African braai lunch of grilled meats accompanied by pap (maize porridge) and vegetables while you watch daredevil adrenaline junkies bungee jumping from the towers.
Spend your last afternoon in Soweto exploring the suburbs of Jabavu. A good place to start is the June 16 Memorial Acre, a new open-air museum opposite Morris Isaacson High School, the place from which the first protesting schoolchildren marched on 16 June 1976.
Nearby is Oppenheimer Park, the location of the quirky Credo Mutwa Cultural Village. Built in the 1970s by traditional healer and sculptor Credo Mutwa, the museum-village offers a unique representation of African mythology and houses an impressive collection of Mutwa’s mystical and prophetic sculptures.
For fashionable souvenirs drive over to the trendy Thesis Concept Store and buy one of its signature Thesis Lifestyle slogan T-shirts or bucket hats, which reference Soweto street culture.
For a last drink in Soweto, enjoy a beer tasting at the Soweto Gold craft brewery where you also have the opportunity to go behind the scenes and meet the brewmasters themselves.